Sep 22, 2022 - Technology

Microsoft eases DRM restriction on many Xbox games

Image of a black Xbox console and controller in front of a black background
Xbox Series X. Image: Microsoft

Most of the Xbox games released in the past decade are at less risk of becoming unplayable in the future. That’s thanks to a change Microsoft has quietly made to how its current consoles handle users' rights to their games.

Why it matters: It’s a win for video game preservationists and anyone else who imagined running recent Xbox games in the far future without worrying about the status of any remote servers.

  • Microsoft is basically backing off an approach to digital rights management, or DRM, for select games.

Details: The change removes the requirement for the disc version of most Xbox One games to check for an internet connection before running on the newer Xbox Series X consoles.

  • In “the vast majority of cases,” the discs will simply install into the system and run the game, according to Microsoft engineer Eden Marie, who addressed the change on Twitter this week.
  • Microsoft made the change in its “2206” update to the Xbox mid-year, according to Marie.
  • Fans who have been passionate about this Microsoft DRM policy first noticed it this month and are now largely cheering the change.

Between the lines: The switch brings Microsoft more in line with rivals Nintendo and Sony, whose systems do not require an online check for disc- or cartridge-based games, according to data pooled for Axios by the operators of the Does It Play online advocacy account and some like-minded players.

  • Previously, these gamers considered Microsoft an outlier, because Xbox One game discs wouldn’t work if they were inserted into an Xbox Series console that didn’t have an internet connection.
  • That issue wasn’t just relevant to games from the Xbox One generation. Many current Xbox Series games ship with only the Xbox One version of the game on the disc and therefore wouldn't run under Microsoft's DRM restriction.
  • Note: There are tighter DRM restrictions for downloadable versions of games across all major platforms.

What they’re saying: “Thanks Microsoft for something that should have been there from the beginning,” YouTuber Hikikomori Media said in a video testing the update.

  • “They did good, so I’ve got to give them props.”

Yes, but Microsoft’s DRM critics still want the company to remove the requirement for every new Xbox console to connect online before it can work.

  • That presents its own preservation headaches.

The big picture: The digital nature of games cuts both ways in terms of preservation, giving games some advantages and disadvantages when compared to trying to preserve, say, hardcover copies of a great novel.

  • Digital media can be stored and transferred with relative ease.
  • But code requires a platform to run it, and is subject to whether those platforms will continue to function and will allow those games to keep running.

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